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The Performance-Enhancing Effects of Beetroot Juice

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Have you heard that beetroot juice can improve performance? In this article, we tell you how it does and how much you need to take to see the effects.


Introduction

While not as popular as most other sports supplements, beetroot juice is an established performance-enhancing substance. In fact, you can even buy beetroot ‘shots’ that contain a concentrated dose of beetroot juice, designed specifically for athletes to take a few hours before exercise. You may be thinking, how is beetroot juice effective? Let’s get into it.


How Beetroot Juice Works

Beetroot juice is very high in a compound known as nitrates. When we drink beetroot juice, these nitrates are then absorbed into our bloodstream, where a portion (~25%) are taken up by our salivary glands and make their way into our saliva. Here, the bacteria in our mouth convert nitrates to a different compound called nitrites, which then eventually makes its way into the bloodstream and is converted to a separate compound called nitric oxide. This final step is crucial, as nitric oxide is the compound that improves exercise performance, as it can alter muscle function, blood flow, and how much oxygen we can use (Figure 1; 1).


Nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway.

Figure 1. The nitrate–nitrite–nitric oxide pathway and the impacts of nitric oxide on physiological processes related to health and performance, adapted from Jones (1).


Interestingly, the benefits of beetroot juice consumption may not occur in those using mouthwash, as this kills the bacteria in the mouth necessary to convert nitrates into nitrites (2). On the other hand, brushing your tongue twice per day may make you even better at converting nitrates into nitrites, which will increase the amount of nitric oxide you produce (3).


Beetroot Juice Improves Exercise Performance

A consistent body of evidence reports that the consumption of nitrates before exercise significantly lowers the oxygen cost of exercise (improving exercise efficiency) and improves endurance performance in trained, but sub-elite, athletes (4). In addition, because nitrates may be even more effective in fast-twitch (type II) compared to slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibres, recent evidence has shown benefits in shorter, high-intensity exercise types and stop-and-go sports, like football (4). For example, one study in footballers reported a ~4% improvement in the Yo-Yo test—an intermittent, high-intensity exercise test designed specifically for footballers—and improvements in 5, 10, and 25 metre sprints for those consuming beetroot juice high in nitrates versus those consuming beetroot juice with the nitrates removed (5).


The Caveat

While performance improvements are often reported in trained, but sub-elite, athletes, effects in elite athletes are less clear-cut. In fact, the benefits of nitrates are much smaller, if even present, in elite athletes (1, 4). There are a number of potential reasons for this that I’m not going to get into (see references 1 and 4 for more), but it is something to flag for those of you reading who are elite-level athletes (see: Figure 2).


Nitrates and exercise performance in athletes.

Figure 2. The top panel shows that performance improvements for dietary nitrates supplementation are often seen in studies of recreational or moderately trained individuals (shown by the bars to the right of the centre [0] line), whereas the bottom panel shows that performance improvements are not always seen in elite athletes (shown by the almost even spread of bars either side of the centre [0] line) (4).


How Much to Take

The recommendation is to take between 5–9 mmol (or 310–560 mg) of nitrates about 2–3 hours before performance (6). The most reliable source of such a dose comes from beetroot shots like the Beet It Sport ones which, unlike many other brands, actually contain the recommended dose of nitrates (7). However, eating nitrate-rich foods like green leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, rocket, spinach) and beetroot can also provide you with a lot of nitrates (~250 milligram per 100 grams [fresh]), and is yet another reason to eat your vegetables (1).


Summary

If you’re interested in ways to improve your performance, consuming beetroot juice (or other nitrate-rich foods) is a potential strategy. What’s more, this has been shown to lower blood pressure (1, 4), so if nothing else, eating nitrate-rich foods is good for your health!


If you want supplemental football training to improve as a footballer, reach out to our team of expert coaches at [email protected] to get started.


That’s it for this week, have a nice weekend!


Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH

Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121


Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.


References

(1) Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Med. 2014;44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S35–45. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008816/


(2) Jones AM, Vanhatalo A, Seals DR, Rossman MJ, Piknova B, Jonvik KL. Dietary Nitrate and Nitric Oxide Metabolism: Mouth, Circulation, Skeletal Muscle, and Exercise Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2021;53(2):280–94. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2021/02000/Dietary_Nitrate_and_Nitric_Oxide_Metabolism_.5.aspx


(3) Tribble GD, Angelov N, Weltman R, et al. Frequency of Tongue Cleaning Impacts the Human Tongue Microbiome Composition and Enterosalivary Circulation of Nitrate. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2019;9:39. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6406172/


(4) Jones AM, Thompson C, Wylie LJ, Vanhatalo A. Dietary Nitrate and Physical Performance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2018;38:303–28. Available at: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-nutr-082117-051622


(5) Thompson C, Vanhatalo A, Jell H, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation improves sprint and high-intensity intermittent running performance. Nitric Oxide. 2016;61:55–61. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1089860316301185


(6) Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al. IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(2):104–25. Available at: https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/28/2/article-p104.xml


(7) Gallardo EJ, Coggan AR. What's in Your Beet Juice? Nitrate and Nitrite Content of Beet Juice Products Marketed to Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(4):345–9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8512783/


Technical Terms

Nitrates: The compound in beetroot and certain green leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, rocket, spinach) that is eventually converted to nitric oxide, which is responsible for certain performance and health improvements.


Nitrites: The intermediate compound that nitrates are converted (or reduced) to nitric oxide in the nitrate–nitrite–nitric oxide pathway. Nitrates are reduced to nitrites as they gain an electron, and nitrites are reduced to nitric oxide as they also gain an electron.


Nitric oxide: The final compound in the nitrate–nitrite–nitric oxide pathway. Nitric oxide plays a number of important roles in the body for health, but also related to performance.

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